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Strange putters pay off for the leaders at Doral

Bob Tway and Scott Hoch have switched to a belly putter and something that looks like a ''potato masher with holes in it.''

By BOB HARIG, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 9, 2003

MIAMI -- The truth is, Bob Tway believes the club should not be legal. That doesn't stop him from using a belly putter.

But it did make him think twice about trying the mid-length putter that has become common.

Made popular in 1999 by Paul Azinger, the belly putter has a long handle that sticks into the stomach, where it is anchored. These days any pro struggling with the flat stick can't help but think about trying one.

"I don't think you should be able to fix something to your body," Tway said. "But I guess as long as you can, you might as well use it."

Tway, 43, the 1986 PGA Championship winner, put himself in position to win his first PGA Tour event since 1995 at the Ford Championship at Doral, where Saturday he shot 3-under-par 69 to tie Scott Hoch, who also is using what once would have been considered a strange putter, through three rounds.

Hoch, 47, shot 66 to finish at 202, 14 under par, setting up a 40-something twosome for today's final pairing at Doral's Blue Monster course.

Tway and Hoch were one stroke ahead of Paraguay's Carlos Franco, who shot 68 and was tied for third with 2000 Doral champion Jim Furyk (69).

Mike Weir, who leads the PGA Tour money list and has two victories this year, was the only player among the top 24 on the leaderboard with a win this season. He shot 69 and was two strokes back.

A big part of Tway's success has been the putter he put in his bag a month ago. "I was a little apprehensive about even trying it, but I didn't like how I was putting so I thought I would give it a whirl," he said. "I said, 'I'm going to try it and stick with it a few weeks to see how it is.' I had never done it before. I've always been a fairly decent putter, and in the past few years I didn't feel very consistent. ... I'm always reluctant to change."

This change has been a good one. He needed just 24 putts Thursday, and although he needed 31 Saturday he finished tied with Hoch.

Hoch went to a Futura, a unique contraption that he said looks like a "potato masher with holes in it." Made by Titleist, Phil Mickelson uses the left-handed version. Although it originally was deemed non-conforming by the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews (the United States Golf Association, whose rules cover the PGA Tour, approved the club), it has since been ruled legal around the world.

"(The ball) rolls so much better for me," Hoch said. "What I do in my stroke, it tends to correct it. You have to have a high-speed camera to tell, but I loop it a little coming back. So when I loop it, I cut across. Even if I square it back it puts a little cut on it. This putter makes it come straight through and roll better. It convinced me. So for me to trust something like that, because I'm a conventional guy, it must really be good."

Hoch is two seasons removed from the ninth and 10th wins of his 24-year career. Last season he had seven top-10 finishes and was 38th on the money list.

Tway also has been around a long time, but his success has been fleeting. He couldn't remember the last time he was in this position: He led by one heading into the final round at the Memorial last year and was tied for the 36-hole lead at the British Open. His best finish was a tie for fourth at Memorial.

"When you haven't won in eight years you get pretty excited to have a chance," Tway said. "The main thing is to be patient and try to relax as much as I can. ... I am probably not expected to win, but I know if I play well I can win."

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